Crowds adore Frankel the virtuoso
Aficionados mass for last chance to see superstar in action as training exercise upstages real thing
Sunday 30 September 2012
It was a bit like Branagh doing a read-through of his Agincourt exhortation front of stage before the curtain rose. Frankel's dress rehearsal thoroughly upstaged the rest of the company gathered here, themselves good-class animals contesting, among others, two Group One prizes and one of the most valuable and competitive handicaps of the season.
But none has the charisma of the unbeaten superstar, due to race for the last time at Ascot 20 days hence. His presence yesterday, to go through a nine-furlong workout on the track before the first race, ensured traffic queues down the local high street from mid-morning and drew considerably more spectators round the parade ring than for the following real things.
But then Frankel is wondrous to watch, in both his slower and faster paces. In repose or at a walk he has no oil-painting elegance, exuding instead a raw, bruising power, but at the gallop his mighty, effortless, stride makes him the classical ventre-a-terre thoroughbred in action. The faithful had a glimpse of both yesterday as the four-year-old went through a full raceday experience, including a return to the winner's circle after rider Tom Queally, in owner Khaled Abdullah's silks, let him stretch clear of the two stablemates who joined him in the exercise.
It provided a physical and mental tightener, something to capture the horse's attention away from his normal routine. His trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, seriously ill, made a rare racecourse appearance to supervise proceedings. "This was just what was needed," he said. "They went a decent pace and Frankel had a good blow afterwards, which is what you would have wanted to see him do as this is not D-day."
Uniquely, the occasion was deemed worthy of a page in the racecard, giving details of the three "runners" and their riders. So step forward in public, for once, Shane Fetherstonhaugh, who partners Frankel daily at home, and Danny Dunnachie, up on the celebrity's regular lead horse, Bullet Train.
Yesterday, Fetherstonhaugh was on Specific Gravity, who briefly led the workout until Dunnachie and Bullet Train adopted their punchbag role, a role neither resents. "When Frankel goes past, he does it so easy it's as if he's just cantering, and it takes your breath away," said one-time jockey Dunnachie. "Bullet Train doesn't give up or lose heart, though. And reliable work horses like him are worth their weight in gold."
As are experienced workriders. Yesterday was the first time Queally had ridden Frankel since they won the International at York last month; it is Fetherstonhaugh who has done more than any man to harness and channel the colt's headstrong tendencies. "He is no pussycat," said Abdullah's racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, of the son of Galileo. "He is a big, robust and domineering horse, but mentally he is now much more the finished article.
"Today we wanted a bit more than a normal workout, we wanted to press him a bit more and get him to use more energy and strength and keep him a lean, mean killing machine."
For those unable to get to sold-out Ascot next month, Frankel's day out afforded the opportunity to bid farewell to one of the greatest shows on Turf for, although the timing of his retirement has yet to be writ in stone, it is highly likely that the Champion Stakes will be his 14th and final race.
And if any reminder that we should all enjoy him while he is here was needed, it came yesterday morning with the news that the top-class mare Snow Fairy, one of the leading fancies for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe today week, will miss the Longchamp showpiece. The injury-prone five-year-old, third last year and winner of both her races this season, sustained a slight tendon strain in her final big-race workout but, provided she recovers fully, is on course to remain in training.
Yesterday's top-level contests here both involved females of the species. In the Cheveley Park Stakes, Rosdhu Queen, trained locally by William Haggas and ridden by Johnny Murtagh, gamely fought off all comers, headed by Winning Express, as she took her unbeaten run to four and launched herself to as short as 14-1 in the lists for next year's 1,000 Guineas. And in the Sun Chariot Stakes Siyouma, from François Doumen's yard, took the spoils back to France for the fourth successive year, after a hat-trick from her compatriot Sahpresa.
The runner-up, Elusive Kate, beaten three-quarters of a length, can be considered unlucky, as she stumbled and spread a plate leaving the start. But rider William Buick found compensation in taking the Cambridgeshire Handicap on Bronze Angel, the last horse to make the cut, in a tight, well-judged late pounce.
The 9-1 shot's trainer, Marcus Tregoning, also supplied the third-placed Boom And Bust (20-1), with Mull Of Killough (33-1) second. Banuanaheireann (50-1) took fourth, ahead of Mukhadram (10-1) and the 8-1 favourite, Chil the Kite.
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